Archive for August, 2013



By Mohan Guruswamy

My proposed talk in Singapore at the Lew Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the “Asia Competitiveness Institute (ACI) Review Seminar on Competitiveness Ranking, Simulation Analysis and Development Strategies for 35 States and Federal Territories of India”

The question that bothers us Indians from time to time is “who are we?” Modern anthropologists classify us Indians as belonging to one of four ethno-racial groups, Caucasoid, Australoid, Mongoloid and Negrito. Geneticists say that the modern Indian population derived from two ancestral populations – ancestral north Indians (ANI’s) and ancestral south Indians (ASI’s). ANI’s are related to the West Eurasians and the ASi’s are distinctly related to the indigenous groups like the Andaman Islanders. We are now an admixture of these two groups. Modern India now has over two thousand ethnic groups.

Modern Indian languages have evolved from all the world’s four language families. Indo-European, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman. We also have a language that belongs to neither of them – Nihali, spoken in parts of Maharashtra. India has 1652 individual mother tongues. The 2001 Census tells us that 30 languages are spoken by over a million each, and 122 by over 10,000 each.

India has almost 1.2 billion people, and the Union of India consists of 31 States and Union Territories, with some more being currently midwifed. The biggest of these is Uttar Pradesh with a population of 199.6 million or 16.49% of India’s. It is as big as Brazil. The smallest political unit is Lakshadweep which has just 64,000 (0.01%). Quite clearly the omnibus term India, incidentally derived from the name of a river that hardly flows through it, masks a diversity of nations.

In late 2012 India became the world’s third largest economy in PPP terms and has grown at an average rate of over 7% since 2000. Between 208-11 it grew at more than 9%. In consonance with global trends India’s growth also has tapered off these past two years. Nevertheless overall the trends have never been like this before and there is optimism about the long term, despite recent troubles. In a country where many state GDP’s are bigger than many large countries. For instance the biggest regional economy in India, Maharashtra at $233 billion is bigger than South Korea and would rank number nine in the world. The next biggest, Andhra Pradesh is as big as Switzerland in GDP terms. Many Indian cities too have large economies. Last year Mumbai’s GDP in PPP terms was $209 billion and it would rank ahead of Denmark.

This overall performance however masks a diversity of performances. The HDI of Kerala is India’s highest 0.790 while the other end of the spectrum is Chhattisgarh with 0.358, which would place it just alongside Chad, one of the world’s poorest and most backward countries. At 0.790 Kerala would find a place in the high HDI list of nations.

While in 2011-12 India grew at 6.88%, large states like Uttar Pradesh (6.23%) and Andhra Pradesh (6.44%) grew at less than the national rate. States like Gujarat excelled with 20.79%, while India’s most prosperous state, Punjab, languished with 5.79%.

The incidence of poverty is always a contentious matter in India. While the government tries to downplay the numbers by having a somewhat self serving index (now 22%), other measures such as the UNDP’s $1.25 a day suggest that almost 37.5% of Indians live in dire poverty. Others have a very different tale. India’s abysmal track record at ensuring basic levels of nutrition is the greatest contributor to its poverty as measured by the new international Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI). About 645 million people or 55% of India’s population is poor as measured by this composite indicator made up of ten markers of education, health and standard of living achievement levels.

The new data also shows that even in states generally perceived as prosperous such as Haryana, Gujarat and Karnataka, more than 40% of the population is poor by the new composite measure, while Kerala is the only state in which the poor constitute less than 20%. The MPI measures both the incidence of poverty and its intensity. A person is defined as poor if he or she is deprived on at least 3 of the 10 indicators. By this definition, 55% of India was poor, close to double India’s much-criticized official poverty figure. Almost 20% of Indians are deprived on 6 of the 10 indicators.

But even more a matter of concern is the growth regional disparities. Eastern India has been languishing and has the densest concentration of poverty. While the northern and southern states have showed very good performances on this front. India’s west has its main industrial centers and naturally overall figures tend to be good here. But if the big cities are removed, here also we get a bit of a dismal picture. Clearly the southern and northern states seem to be doing better. I will not get into more details. I am sure the studies we will see presented here today will cover this and much more.

But I would like to leave this seminar with a question? In a global system having almost two hundred independent states at various states and stages of development, we can have a wide disparity, as each one of these economies represents a sovereign entity, bounded by a border. But in a system that in bound by its constitution, its history and its civilization as one, as is India, can we afford to risk too much diversity in economic well- being? One immediate problem is a feeling of deprivation to the benefit of others. The credit /deposit ratios only fuel this. The southern states have an average C/D ratio of 92.25, with Andhra Pradesh leading with 105.14. The northeast lags well behind with 34.42, while eastern India has 50.30. The big state of Bihar just has 28.61 in comparison Tamil Nadu has the highest with 112.65. Clearly something is going on here. And there will be consequences.

Some of these are in evidence already. The population growths are very varied now. While southern India will stop growing before this decade ends, the major northern states of Bihar, UP, Rajasthan and MP will keep growing till well past 2060. It also means the South will age faster, and already we see noticeable migrations. What frictions this will cause are a matter for discussion, as is the composition of India’s Parliament where the constituencies are related to population.

Finally, it is clear that there can be no growth without pain, often to others. But without growth there will be all round pain. The challenge for India is to spread the growth more equitably and share the pain more evenly. I look forward to your deliberations and hope to gain much from them.

Mohan Guruswamy studied Public Policy and Management at Harvard University, is Advisor at Ministry of Finance India, Non-Resident Senior Fellow at Atlantic Council of the United States and Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, and, is a friend.

Advertisements

I remember Musa Aman once told me that he bought a property in Cairo on behalf of the Sabah State Government for accommodation for Sabahan students studying there. Years later he bought another property in Alexandria also for the same purpose. While traveling from Cairo to Alexandria by road, Musa said he saw only arid land all the way. 5 years ago before Mubarak was ousted Musa made another trip by road from Cairo to Alexandria and was totally surprise that the the arid land he saw earlier had been transformed into green fields producing all kinds of vegetables, including tomatoes, cabbages and potatoes. Today its a different picture all together.

The carnage and discontent in Egypt is a sad example of what a civilised society has come to mean today. While the Arab Spring did in fact raise hopes of a democratic construct, all efforts towards such an event seem to have been forgotten.

Mohamed Morsi’s government was no doubt elected through the ballot. But does it make it truly democratic? How can an Islamic government, of the Islamic Brotherhood, be fully democratic guaranteeing the fundamental rights of individuals as generally understood? Even the Soviet bloc countries called themselves democracies or socialist democracies. May be the army in Egypt (and its western supporters) fear with reason that a Morsi dispensation would lead to a slide back, from the modernity gained so far, to eventual religious fundamentalism.

People’s protests too could be very reckless and violent when motivated by passions of a religious origin and combined with the Army’s usual brutal methods of suppression. Therefore, it is not surprising that there continues to be a heavy loss of civilian lives.

The persistent silence and reticence of the U.S. and the western block are rather intriguing in that the U.S., in particular, has chosen not to call the obvious coup a coup and is overlooking this development as if nothing has taken place at all; only to pre-empt the automatic stoppage of the aid to Egypt’s new regime. Even though the U.S. overtly proclaims to champion the cause of democracy and do business only with such countries, it has not hesitated to dilute that policy any number of times to advance its interests. It is unlikely that the U.S. will be in a hurry to bring about a truce.

If the Egyptian Army is the cause of the present situation by its direct military action, the Muslim Brotherhood too is equally responsible for fostering violence for political purposes. The Brotherhood is alleged to have terrorised numerous minorities, revealing its true face. In the past year, it has paid scant respect to human rights.

A bloodbath is never a solution to political struggle. The situation there calls for effective intervention by the United Nations and other nations. But sad, cannot see a Malaysian opinion, Malaysia have become a nation without a stand!


In October 7, 2003, when the Sabah economy was going through turmoil, Musa Aman took charge of Sabah as the Chief Minister. Turn to March 2008 Barisan National and Musa Aman in Sabah is stronger than ever. BN had swept the polls in Sabah retaining power with more than two-thirds majority winning 59 out of 60 seats contested. In this age of fragmented polity where getting a majority seems unreal, BN under Musa Aman bagged 65 percent of the votes in almost all the places. Interesting to note is that these poll victories continued even two years later in 2010 when the PBS won Batu Sapi Parliamentary constituency in a by-election.

Then in May 5th 2013, Musa Aman breaks the 9-year CM jinx and becomes the longest serving chief minster in the history of Sabah and brings Barisan National to another impressive two-thirds victory for the state seats and winning 22 out of the 25 Parliamentary seats. How did Musa Aman and the people of Sabah make all this possible?

One particular remark of Musa Aman caught my pride and attention. He claimed that only politics of development can do something good, not the politics of vote bank. He said, “I have succeeded to deliver my message that politics of vote bank or politics of appeasement would not do any good, but the politics of development would do.” The truth in this statement is the future of Sabah. The truth in this statement will bring in faith of the Sabah population into the political democracy. Development, prosperity and improvement of the standards of living will and can bring in a permanent political stability. And will tag along prosperity with stability.

Today we are being short-sighted. The political attitude is of vote bank politics, ‘blanket’ politics, immediate selfish goals and corruption ridden personal growth. It is vicious cycle that takes us away from socio-economic development. Musa Aman also could have been short-sighted. He could have assumed his imminent fall in the elections and could have concentrated his energies in making as much wealth as possible for a lifetime. Instead he chose the difficult path of development. He once said, “An opportunity to work is good luck for me. I put my soul into it. Each such opportunity opens the gates for the next one.”

Faced with massive economic losses brought in by 2001, he concentrated on reorganizing the government’s administrative structure including Yayasan Sabah and embarked upon a massive cost-cutting exercise when he took over as chief minister in 2003. As a result of Sabah government efforts under the guidance of Musa, Sabah registered a GDP growth rate of over 5% during his first tenure. This was one the highest growth rate among all the Malaysian states.

Sabah is probably the only state witnessing more than 7% growth for a long time and also the only state growing higher than the country’s 5-6 per cent growth. Sabah is growing faster than some of the ASEAN economies. Plan expenditure has also leapfrogged from RM 2 billion plus in 2003-04 to RM 4 billion plus in 2012-13. It’s all about security, infrastructure development, transparent policies and prudent State fiscal management, which have contributed to Sabah’s growth.

During my stay in Tenom, I remember Padas River a notoriously polluted river had begun to be transformed and now appeared to be much cleaner, although the water was still extremely yellowish with siltation brought down from the upper parts of Keningau and Trusmadi the second highest mountain in Sabah, now it is flowing bank to bank and the water is better quality. If the Padas River has begun to meander once again, that’s because the water is flowing freely from the upper parts of Keningau and Trusmadi, courtesy the ambitious river-cleaning project of Musa Aman.

Padas River in full flow is an apt metaphor for the miracle that Musa Aman has pulled off in making Tenom a model for rural/urban development. Today it boasts of wide roads, shorter time to reach Brunei, Lawas, Sipitang and even Kota Kinabalu, better traffic control and minimum traffic congestion and ample green spaces and the cleanest town in Sabah. It is a delight to hear Musa Aman speak about development. He once said, “Our roads will be as good as the Autobahns of Germany”.

Development of roads in the state epitomizes this wind of change. When a foreign tourist, who has been visiting tourist spots in the state for long, whom I met recently in Tenom was asked about the most visible change, he said it was road and the “Tenom Coffee”. Sabah, for long, remained infamous for its bad roads and pitiable connectivity. People suffered due to utter lack of connectivity. Though the state is criss-crossed by several rivers, there were very few bridges across them, forcing people to make long detours to reach their destination just across the river.

Musa said about the changing Sabah: “The state is experiencing all-round development because of our policy of ensuring that the benefits of development first go to those at the bottom of the social ladder. Over the years, we rose above the feelings of race and religion which Sabah is all about, and have worked tirelessly on the agenda of inclusive development of the state.”

It’s a proud moment for Sabah that a political leader is showing us the path of long term development to win a democratic election, to be a popular leader. This is learning and teaching to all the national and regional political parties, who have not been far-sighted like Musa Aman.

Lets salute to the power of development.


If you have read my articles more than once, you would know that I detest demagogues. Not for personal or aesthetic reasons, but because in the twenty five years that I have covered Sabah politics, I have observed that the political culture demagoguery breeds is to blame for most of our economic and political problems. It has been my humble observation that whenever Sabah was ruled by a supposedly charismatic leader, skilled in the arts of demagoguery, Sabah suffered while the leader continued to look good. This is because demagogues rarely bother to deliver on their grandiose promises to remove poverty and bring development since they are confident that their ‘charisma’ is what brings in the votes and not their work. It is sadly true that they have far too often been proved right by voters.

So, when I saw demagoguery resoundingly trashed in the recent GE13 in Sabah, it lit a small flicker of hope in my cynical old heart. In Sabah, voters had a choice between an array of demagogues and a quiet, little man who allowed the work he had done in the past ten years to speak for him. Well done Sabah for voting for Musa Aman instead of the demagogues and poseurs who came to defeat him with their charisma and their party tricks.

Musa Aman’s main rival was a very skilled demagogue called Lajim Ukin. So skilled that he has shown himself to be undefeatable despite allegations that he made millions from lopsided agreements that the Sabah Local Government had signed away to his cronies when he was Minister of Local Government and Housing, and while he was busy with his slot machines. The local government he was heading went to pieces but Lajim thrived. After moving to a parliamentary seat, he came to Putajaya to become a celebrated federal deputy cabinet minister despite doing as little for the housing as he did for Sabah. He got away with his lack of administrative abilities by being such a brilliant demagogue. His demagoguery even served to conceal the utter lack of any sort of ability that he showed as minister.

The voters of Sabah did well by making sure he failed to defend his incumbency in his Beaufort Parlimentary seat, and in his state seat of Klias Lajim won by a slim majority of 342 votes after obtaining a total of 6,324 votes. They did even better to reject the advances of a another demagogue Anwar Ibrahim. He warned Sabahan voters that they would be making a big mistake if they voted for Musa Aman because he was a chief minister who had squandered the state and allowed centralisation of power.

Musa Aman chose not to respond to the charges flung at him and instead talked of how Sabah had improved in the past ten years and brought more development to Sabah and fought for more de-centralisation and delegation of power back to the state government. At an annual economic growth of 8 per cent in the past five years (compared to 2.5 per cent before), there are visible differences in Sabah that were excellently reported by the Daily Express newspaper’s editor in two articles last month.

From our weakness for demagogues have come the political dynasties that now control most political parties in Malaysia. Whenever this happens, a political party stops being a political party and becomes a family firm whose main purpose is to serve the interests of the family who controls it. Remember Shahrizat’s “lembu” episode? Yes, from this comes the tendency to see politics as business and then inevitably we have one or other member of the family who is projected as a commercial genius who mysteriously makes a lot of money very quickly while his wife or brother or sister goes into politics.

Malaysia has suffered enough from demagogues and dynasties. What we need are many, many more chief ministers like Musa Aman who show that they can win elections by working hard for the people who vote them to power. The voters of Sabah can truly be proud of the results they gave us on May 5th 2013. If this can happen in Sabah, then there really is hope of Malaysia becoming a fully developed country in 2020. But, voters must continue to tell the difference between demagogues and real leaders.


Newton’s third law of motion states that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. This is one law that has found many practical uses in science, but in politics, Taib Mahmud has mastered it like no one else has. Taib Mahmud has used this before and in the last GE13, we saw it being used once again.

Taib Mahmud’s interpretation of Newton’s 3rd law should be seen in the context of his political strategy. Incite the Sarawakians somehow, so that they vote for him en-masse. No where else in the country is the Sarawakian Bumiputra so united and committed behind the Barisan National Sarawak as he/she is in Sarawak. None of the “kedaerahan” politics that pervades much of Borneo states even seems to make a beginning in Sarawak. In fact, the Sarawakian voter has conferred Taib with the title of “Peh Moh”or White hair just like White Rajah Brooke – something that no other politician has managed to earn.

Trust me, this is not just paranoia. I have observed Taib for many years and I can say this with confidence that his every recent statement and action indicates the launch of one more edition of his proven mantra. Do something that unites the Sarawakian Native vote. But how? Here’s where Newton’s 3rd law comes in: Say something that targets the Malayans or Putrajaya; get media to hyper-react and come to their defense. Gain advantage with the state’s Sarawakians. In short: “Push out the Malayans. Pull in the Sarawakians”. Some would say “very smart”. So what if it is “divisive”. Politics in Sarawak never bothered about things like that!

Let’s look at what all Taib Mahmud has been busy with recently.

Taib’s various interviews with the media is interpreted by naive political observers as being an attempt at reaching out to the natives in Sarawak. This bunch of naive political observers thought this was Taib’s steps towards remaining as chief minister for Sarawak forever and to make sure UMNO never enters Sarawak. But Taib has already figured out that UMNO and Barisan National has become too weak in Malaya and depend too much on Sarawak to remain in power in Putrajaya. This is the time for re-asserting power in his home state by winning handsomely. His focus is only on Sarawak right now. He has enough trouble in his home state. The economy is slowing down (yes yes…..read unbiased articles to understand this fact) and he is getting panned for his state’s Human Development Index figures and corruption. If he now loses Sarawak, he loses all chances to remain as chief minister and UMNO will step foot in Sarawak and hence create another Sabah senario, every Sarawakian knows this. On the other hand, if he wins Sarawak again in the coming Sarawak state election which is expected within the next 2 years, he is without doubt going to be the foremost chief minister who kept the Malayan colonist out from Sarawak, notwithstanding what Taib Mahmud or others feel.

Let’s analyze what Taib told the press recently. Taib Mahmud charged that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) does not “deserve” his cooperation in potential graft investigations as they have not been upfront with him. Taib said he was not afraid of being investigated by MACC as long as he was being treated fairly. “Up to you. They want to victimise me, let them. As long as they are fair I am not scared”. “They don’t deserve my cooperation because they have been quite naughty.” The interview provided Taib the platform to announce that he wouldn’t apologize to the Putrajaya control MACC because he hadn’t done anything wrong. Sounds strange assuming he was trying to appease the Feds? Imagine this. Taib talking to the Feds in their language and telling them on their faces that he wasn’t going to cooperate? What were the Feds expected to do? Howl with anger and pass judgments that Taib was guilty! What is the media expected to do? Scream untouchable Taib. That’s what it did! And what about the opposition? Of course, they all showed how untouchable Taib was. This is exactly what Taib wanted! All this has panned out so beautifully for him. Why? Because what will Sarawakian do when they hear so much media, opposition and criticism of Taib? They will react like Newton said they would. They will ring fence Taib. They will swear to themselves and to each other that they will get their “protector” elected. Brilliant, Taib Mahmud!

Consider also the Malay-language Bible “Alkitab” row. Malaysiakini reported Taib as saying “It was I who talked to the prime minister. I said to him that it was a stupid idea to stamp serial numbers. I told him it should be stopped and he said ‘yes I agree and I’ll put a stop to it’. So he went and stopped the serial numbers. Now there’s no more of this nonsense.” Again, naive observers may have wondered why Taib wasn’t seizing the opportunity to curry favor with the Muslims. But no, Taib’s objective was the same. He was interested in making a statement to the Christian Bumiputras. Again….push the Malayan fanatics….maybe even become a hate figure amongst them…..and earn the votes of the Christian Bumiputras! Brilliant, no? The hearts of Taib’s Sarawak Christians would have swelled with pride. Now that’s our leader!

Taib is said to be fantastic with PR. I agree. He will use every bit of available opportunity to further gain from Newton’s law. The recent Lahad Datu Intrusion is and example where he said the setting up of Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate Lahad Datu intrusion in Sabah is a good move to find out the truth about what happened to avoid the government from being accused of creating the conflict. Taib cannot publicly use this issue to whip up support for himself, but in secret ceramah’s in Sarawak, Taib must be telling the Sarwakians – see what happens if we surrender our rights to the Malayans, let me handle this, only I can stop Putrajaya from stealing our rights! Give me your vote and I will make sure Sarawak is safe from Putrajaya!

The real truth is that all fair’s in love and war and politics. And no one can grudge Taib his political strategy. But it would help to know what one is getting into. No one expects Taib not to rely on his Dayak vote bank. There is nothing wrong in that. But one must recognize the downside of such a strategy. For the country and for his own party. Taib may want to ask why UMNO is dying to step foot in Sarawak and why Putrajaya wants him to retire as chief minister….the answer to that may make him wiser. Wiser than merely knowing Newton’s laws….



Author JK Rowling has accepted a charitable donation from a law firm which revealed she wrote a crime novel “The Cuckoo’s Calling” under a pseudonym.

The Harry Potter author says her crime-writing alter ego, Robert Galbraith, had respectable sales before being exposed in the Sunday Times as a pseudonym. Though there had been speculation she had leaked the news to bolster sales, the law firm Russells acknowledged that one if its partners had let the information slip to his wife’s best friend, who tweeted it to a Sunday Times columnist.

Ms. Rowling sued the law firm partner. Her attorney, Jenny Afia, told Britain’s High Court on Wednesday that Ms. Rowling was “distressed by such a fundamental betrayal of trust.”

The firm agreed to reimburse Ms. Rowling’s legal costs and to make a payment to the Soldiers’ Charity.